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I picked her up from the airport just after sundown. She’d had a long day travelling, and she gave out a few yawns on the way to her distant suburb.

“This cab is a non-yawning zone,” I mock-growled. “I’ve got another seven hours yet before I finish at three in the morning.”

But that didn’t stop her. Honestly, I was afraid that she might fall asleep on me, and I was glad I’d gotten the full address from her.

But we staid awake together, chatting about this and that. Give me a limousine, a lovely lady beside me, late night in the nation’s capital, and I’m in cabbie heaven. And then she pays me for my trouble. It doesn’t get better than this!

Found her house, right where she said it would be, she covered up one last yawn, and as I handed her the receipt, I used my stock joke, “...and now I’ll just drive away with your suitcase.”

“Oh, don’t do that!” she exclaimed, “My pillow’s inside it!”
skyring: (Default)

It was a quiet shift last night. I have a book with me - at the moment it’s Paul Theroux’x Ghost Train to the Eastern Star - but I rarely read in the cab, even if it’s such a rattling good railway story as this.

Instead I succumbed to my romantic side and watched one of my favorite movies, reduced to a splinter of its original self on my iPhone, but still as grand a love story as you can get. In fact, just the thought that I had it ready to play when I got a spare couple of hours had inspired me to download a song to match.

Perry Como, my patron saint of sentiment, singing with the aid of a bass-voiced backer:
You pray that you will find
Someone warm and sweet and kind

I’ve met her on three continents now: child of New York, English language teacher in Japan, intrepid Greyhound explorer of Australia. She’s as much in love with travel, the world and its people as I am, and she is the sort of someone Perry Como would have us find.

I staid with her in Japan, sleeping on the couch in her tiny living room at night while by day we explored Hiroshima and climbed up to the pagodaed peak of Osaka Castle. I took a picture of her smiling out over a smoggy city. She had been there several times before, but was happy to guide yet another visitor up.

Cari atop Osaka Castle

I’ll be forever catching up to Cari, I think. She’s seen more of my country than I have, and she’s off to Antarctica later this year. My travels usually involve revisiting the same places, and I’m only half joking when I say that I have a favorite luggage trolley at all the great airports. My last world tour, there was only one new destination for me. But what a place!
The bluest skies you’ll ever see are in Seattle
And the hills the greenest green...

So I watched Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan in Sleepless in Seattle when I had time, and listened to Perry Como when I could only sneak a couple of minutes.

There were a few people I wanted to meet in Seattle, and the thought of visiting the Museum of Flight at Boeing Field was a bonus to an aviation nut like me, but mostly because it was a place I’d always longed to see ever since I learnt how to pronounce it properly. And to check out those blue skies.

The movie (and the song) were a way of revisiting this fascinating place, and I cherished the scenes where I could recognise landmarks. The Space Needle, of course, and Pikes Place Market, where Tom Hanks discussed the cuteness of his bum with a coworker and some years later I posed Ringbear for a night shot.

I loved Seattle. The Museum of Flight was all I could hope for, and I got to board a Concorde. The Space Needle was delightfully hokey, one of those Sixties visions of what the future would be like, but it had the most stunning view over Seattle. Forests, lakes, mountains bordered the corporate home of Boeing, Microsoft, Amazon and Starbucks. At one stage I looked out and there, just clearing itself out of the clouds, was the biggest mountain I’d ever seen. It was so much a part of the sky that at first I thought Mount Rainier was a cloud. I stood goggle-eyed.

I loved Seattle. So the song and the movie brought back some happy memories.

At a couple of points in the movie, a little map of the USA appeared, and a planetrail of dots showed the characters flying from Seattle to New York. That was me in October, and Cari was there to meet me that evening, sharing a dinner before I cabbed it back to my Harlem hostel.

The next day we did a bunch of touristy things, including a visit to the Empire State Building, where Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan began their shared life together.

Get this. Cari, born in New York, lived there for most of her life, at home on the viewing platforms of towers across the world, had never been to the top of the Empire State Building. She actually called her mother while we were there to report the fact!

Cari on top of the world

My day in Seattle and my guided tour of Manhattan: days to sparkle in my memory.
Never knew a day so fair,
It makes you feel so proud that you could cry!

I’ll admit it. There were tears in my eyes when the closing credits rolled, reflecting those when I hugged Cari goodbye before boarding the long evening flight to Sydney.

Back to my everyday world of cabdriving. Back to my days of smiling dreams of wonderful people and places.

I wonder if there are any sweet romantic films of New York?
skyring: (Default)
Long Fares
Long Fares,
originally uploaded by skyring.

Just when you start thinking that you’ve seen it all, along comes a shift like the last one.

Pat the day driver turned up early. I was fresh out of the shower and only partially uniformed, but I heard the dog give a bark, so I went out to chat. Once upon a time my little skittish terrier dog would have yelped herself into a frenzy, but nowadays someone can come along in the middle of the afternoon, park a limousine in my carport, get out and begin polishing the windows, and she barely mentions the fact.

We chatted for a while, and at one point I opened the car door to check something inside, and then we said goodbye. He was off to home and an early night, me to finish getting my stuff together to begin my shift.

Took me about five minutes to pack up my gear, put my shoes on, etc. I came down, logged onto the despatch system, got out a fresh envelope, jotted down the start of shift figures, stowed my bits and pieces away.

“Warm in here,” I thought, and reached down to start the engine and get the aircon working. Oooops. No key. Felt into my pocket, checked all the usual places, went and looked inside the house. No key.

“Errr,” I messaged Pat, “do you have the key in your pocket?”

He didn’t exactly reply that he did, but his response, that he had swearwords on his tongue, suggested to me that he was leadfooting it back.

So I began my shift a little late.

I got a lovely job early on, collecting some members of the Australian Academy of Science building from their distinctive meeting place, officially known as the Shine Dome, but shown off to bemused tourists as the Eskimo Embassy. Got a great picture of the cab outside, but that will have to wait for another day.

Later on, I got a call to a major government building for a ComCar offload job. ComCar is the Commonwealth limousine service, and they generally shuttle members of parliament around, taking up all the good slots at the airport, idling the evenings away outside restaurants etc. Usually they only work when parliament is sitting, which it isn’t at the moment, so occasionally they call on Silver Service for an odd job.

I won’t say who my passenger was, but he was a senior government minister, and I waited half an hour for him.

It wasn’t quite the same as a Washington DC cabbie giving Hillary Clinton a lift, but it was still an experience I don’t get every day. No photograph from this trip, neither.

I went back to the airport to meet the last flight, the one from the Gold Coast getting in half an hour before midnight. Normally this is a bit of a gamble. You don’t want to drive out to the airport, have nine passengers get off the plane heading for the cab rank, and be taxi number ten. On the other hand, jobs from the airport are usually a lot more pleasant and better paying than picking up folk from the nightclubs in town. I’ll often get some very cheerful drunks and we’ll have a wonderful time, but you never know.

On this occasion, I was taxi number eleven, and when it became obvious that the airport was clear for the night, there were a few swearwords on my tongue as I drove off.

Drove past the service station, accelerating away into the night, into town, when I got a job offer. “Canberra International Airport”, it said. The passengers from the Queensland flight were all gone, but every now and then I’ll get a job from a late worker at the business park, or the VIP squadron, or the private aviation hangars.

So I took the job. Better than lining up in Civic with a bazillion other cabs for the eight dollar fifty fares getting carloads of woozy students back to their colleges.

Well, blow me down and sweep me up! My job was to Wagga Wagga, for a five hundred and fifty dollar fare!

My pickup was outside the Qantas doors, and there they were, a few young folk chatting to a policeman. The cop approached as I drew up. “Looks like you’re going to Wagga!” he said.

We loaded the bags into the boot. A bit of a squeeze, but we filled up all the corners. Likewise my passengers.

Money up front - that’s the rule for long fares. I didn’t think that these youngsters were going to run off into the night when we got to Wagga Wagga, but best to get things sorted out before heading off several hours into regional New South Wales.

We got the fare settled - a bunch of pineapples and a card, for which I had to get authorisation, and then we headed off.

Oddly enough, it was the cab’s second long trip of the week. A day earlier Pat had taken a gentleman up to Sydney, and almost continued on to Brisbane with a thousand dollar tip in his pocket. His blog tells the story far better than I could have, but I’d had to drive a spare taxi that night, and my backside was still wincing after a shift spent sitting in the most uncomfortable car seat in the world.

I could tell there was a story to this trip, and with laughter and embarrassed sighs, it all came out.

My four passengers had a friend who was graduating from the Army recruit training centre at Kapooka, just outside Wagga Wagga. They had flown down, intending to hire a car for the two to three hour trip out. But when the only driver in the group went to the rental desk, he discovered that he’d left his drivers licence back in Queensland, and not surprisingly, the rental firm wasn’t going to hand over one of their cars to a group of teenagers without a drivers licence between them.

Midnight, and there are no trains, no buses out to Wagga. In a strange city, their options were either to camp in the terminal, or hire a taxi.

Five hundred and fifty dollars is a lot of money for a cab ride, but they scraped it up - probably their spending money for the trip - and luckily they drew a Silver Service car, with the leather seats, the legroom in the rear cabin, the driver who was polite enough not to laugh at their story...

No, seriously, I was thinking that these things happen to anyone. Even the most organised man in the world - my day driver - had forgotten a car key that very day.

Midnight, and a long drive ahead. But I swung around Parliament House for these late night tourists to have a look at the building and to get a photograph.

Then we headed up Anzac Parade, that glorious ceremonial avenue leading to the Australian War Memorial, and after that the buildings became ever more sparse.

They were tired after a big day, and gradually the chatter ceased, and the young lady who had been given the front seat cranked it back and began sleeping. I turned the music down and the heat up as we flew down the empty highway. It would have been a great trip in daytime, but at night it was just distant lights, roadsigns and a great darkness hiding the beautiful rolling golden hills of southern New South Wales.

We joined the Hume Highway, a stream of double-length semi trailers improving the midnight hours between Melbourne and Sydney, but after a few minutes of cruising with these monsters, I pulled in at the Yass services. The car needed gas, and I needed coffee for the long drive there and back.

I also took the opportunity to text Pat, letting him know that I wouldn’t be back until dawn. Just in case he got dressed and turned up at my place at three in the morning to wait for a taxi that was halfway across the next State.

It was a quiet ride down the Hume, apart from trying to share the road with people whose professional careers consist of steering mighty trucks through the night. They know every twist of the road, every speed sign, every lane change the same way I know the road out to the airport, and when we hit roadworks five miles from Gundagai, I had an impatient semitrailer not just filling all three rear-view mirrors, but illuminating the cab’s interior with blazing searchlights telling me to hurry up.

I hurried, sipping my coffee and anxiously looking out for wildlife on the road. At 120 kilometres an hour, I’d make a fine mess of any kangaroo. And vice versa.

The GPS display tightened up and eventually we were at a scale where street names made sense. Wagga Wagga, here we are!

Wagga Wagga was not interested, and the motel was dark and deserted. We found an all-night service station, unloaded the bags, posed for photographs, and parted ways. I had to get the car back for the day driver’s shift and there was a lot of driving to do before I could sleep.

I loaded up some junk food, put “The Long Tail” on the iPhone, and hit the road, enduring a series of horrible punning text messages from my waiting day driver.

Luckily, no wombats were injured in the making of this voyage and I delivered a car that was full of gas, if not sparkling clean, just as the sky began to pale.

And there’s one brand new soldier today, who has the best friends in the world. They were four lovable, engaging young folk, and it was my privilege to be of service to them.


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September 2010

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